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There’s no reason to laze on a Hawaiian beach like a sunning monk seal, watching wild, bronzed athletic types surf up a storm. Wouldn’t it be great to come back from Hawaii and brag that you, too, caught a couple of gnarly waves?

Even at a beginner’s level, surfing in Hawaii is a thrill. The warm air, lush green coastline, clear water and the sensory rush of gliding atop a wave make surfing a terrific adventure. But trust me: First, get a lesson.

With an instructor, you’ll have fun the first time out. You will learn essential safety, where to stand on the board, where to look, how to negotiate a wave, and how to stay out of riptides and reefs. You’ll even learn how to fall so you don’t crack open your noggin.

For my surfing adventure, I took a lesson on Oahu’s North Shore at Turtle Bay Resort from Hans Hedemann, an instructor who competed on the world surfing tour for 17 years. Clearly, he’s a man who knows something about dudes hanging 10.

My problem is that I was hanging 20 — both extra pounds and extra years — over the more usual surfer.

“Most of surfing is paddling, so it can be pretty tiring if you’re not in shape,” he said, looking at my 48-year-old, rounded belly. “So it’s important to pick a location where you can paddle around or through the oncoming waves easily without getting too tired.”

On Oahu, beginners will have the best luck at the Turtle Bay Resort, where Hedemann teaches, or right on Waikiki Beach, where the skiing equivalents of bunny slopes are situated. On other islands, ask local surfing instructors or guides who know the best places for beginners.

Oahu’s North Shore is famous for its world-class pipelines and tremendous waves, and it’s also the site of the Triple Crown of Surfing championships. In the winter months, the surf can rise quickly, going from 2 to 25 feet high and larger during the course of a day. But at Turtle Bay, there’s a nice area close to the resort, with waves both medium and small.

“You need a beach with shoulder or waist-high waves that will carry you 100 to 200 yards,” Hedemann said. “That’s why Hawaii is one of the best places to surf for beginners. There are lots of areas with warm water and rolling waves that aren’t too big or that break on the beach.”

Next, consider your trunks: My son implored me to lose my old, midthigh trunks, which are reminiscent of those basketball shorts worn by the early-’80s Celtics. I traded them in for some long, happening Billabongs.

“We see guys from Europe taking lessons wearing orange Speedos,” said Hedemann with a laugh. “You just don’t want to wear anything that will fall off, so tighten the drawstring.”

At 5-feet-11 and 230 pounds, I needed a large board, about 12 feet long and 3 feet wide. Believe it or not, larger boards are easier to manage, providing needed stability and buoyancy, either when riding a wave or when paddling out to catch the next one. Those sleek, smaller boards are worth trying only after a surfer gets the hang of the sport.

Before hitting the water, we spent 15 minutes stretching our limbs and back to make our muscles limber and responsive.

Still on the beach, I practiced the proper stance on the board, similar to an umpire calling a runner “safe” at home plate, and received important safety tips. “When you fall, make sure you fall flat on your back or stomach — do not dive or jump down feet first,” Hedemann said. “Otherwise you could hit a rock or cut yourself on sharp coral that may be right under the surface.”

Then it was time to get wet. Hedemann showed us how to paddle most efficiently, with feet on the board instead of dragging, and which direction to move our arms to turn our boards.

While paddling out, we hit a set of waves that sent healthy amounts of foam into my face, and I could tell right away that this was no sport for weenies. Paddling into the surf was work.

Turning around and lying on my stomach, I waited until the right wave came along. Hans played spotter, letting me know when to commence stroking, and gave my board a healthy shove.

Paddling like mad, I could feel … maybe … dang! Missed it. “Next time, don’t stop paddling!” Hedemann shouted above the surf.

So when the next one came along, I chugged away until I felt my board rise and glide, powered by a 6-foot-high, crashing wave. Quickly, I scooted my knees under my body while holding my hands on either side of the board. Next, I brought one foot up to the center of the board and then, in one move, crouched into position with my arms spread wide.

Duuude. I was surfing.

Maybe I didn’t master any tubes that day, and I certainly fell more than my share, but I did ride a few all the way in to the beach.


Hans Hedemann Surf — 808-924-7778; hhsurf.com
Turtle Bay Resort — 808-293-6000; turtlebayresort.com.

January 9, 2008





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